Pseudo-relationships 101: Part 1 – Between the Lines

Senior year of college I joked with my friends about starting a website with funny and instructional advice about how to avoid “pseudo-relationships.” A term I thought I’d coined, that it seems is becoming about as well-known as “friends with benefits” (at least according to a google search).

My website on the subject never materialized but I think it’s time for me to devote a few entries to this topic, especially since what is out there about it is pretty unsatisfying. So this will be the first of a series about pseudo-relationships. Though the series might not be as light hearted as I’d once intended.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, pseudo-relationships are those relationships that develop between the lines of friendship and romance. If you’ve ever been in one you know exactly what I’m talking about. Unlike friends with benefits, typically these relationships aren’t physically involved. Actually that’s where a lot of the confusion comes from. It seems like one person in the relationship tends to think: ‘If we aren’t touching, we aren’t dating.’ While the other person is thinking: ‘It feels like we’re dating, it looks like we’re dating, so we’re basically dating.’ But neither person airs these thoughts and the relationship remains undefined. In short, pseudo-dating is another term for emotional dating.

Also unlike friends with benefits, most pseudo-relationships aren’t the result of some sort of mutual agreement to provide the benefits of a relationship but commitment free. They usually aren’t that intentional at all. As you can see from my illustration. Most are the result of misunderstanding and mixed messages. They happen when one person decides early on that the relationship is neutral but, for whatever reason, and often absentmindedly, acts in a way that implies otherwise (demanding more time and emotional support than is appropriate in a friendship), while the other person feels like more than friendship is developing. Neither talk about it, one because he/she thinks there is nothing to talk about, the other because he/she doesn’t want to force a label on what’s going on. Honestly, both parties tend to be pretty oblivious to what’s developing, at least at first. Even the hopeful one is often in denial of his/her attracted to the other.

There is a perfect example in the show “Drop Dead Diva.” The premise of the show is that a skinny model died then got a second chance to live but in the body of a plus size lawyer named Jane. In her new body she happens to be working with the guy she was practically engaged to in her former life. Their chemistry is still there but now that she’s less gorgeous he assumes all of his emotions for her are platonic. So they’re ‘just friends’ but investing too much time and energy into each other. He is completely oblivious to how she feels about him. She tries to move on but is unable to shake her hope that he’ll realize who she really is. Eventually she’s called out on it by one of his ex-girlfriends. Who says to her, “You should tell him how you really feel or move on. You might not be sleeping with him, Jane, but you’re still giving it away.”

After telling my sister, Christa, about this episode she said, “That show is practically the story of your life! Have those writers been following you around?”

Funny as her comment was, it felt true. To be honest, that was the last episode I watched. It hit too close to home. One of the reasons that my website never materialized was that I didn’t avoid pseudo-relationships myself. From high school through grad school I had five. The first ones being pretty benign and almost accidental, the last being devastating.

That show, “Drop Dead Diva,” illustrates one of the reasons it was so prevalent in my life. When you’re plus size in your twenties there aren’t that many appealing men who will be interested in actually dating you. And when your plus size, a bit of a loud mouth and smart that number slims even further. Given the choice of being utterly single or pseudo-dating I preferred the latter. Though I didn’t really think it through at first. These sort of relationship just started developing in some of my friendships with men and I just went with it. That is until it became too painful.

Eventually I found myself feeling like Elizabeth Wurtzel in Prozac Nation, suffocating from the rules I’d been living by that denied me the right to admit when I’d fallen in love (because I’m a modern woman who is supposed to be able to handle the causal nature of these types of relationships). I wanted so badly to ask these men, “What makes you think I’m so rich that you can steal my heart and it won’t mean a thing?” I wanted to “walk around with a HANDLE WITH CARE sign stuck on my forehead.”

Instead, I burned the final bridge between myself and my last pseudo-boyfriend. I said everything I’d been holding back and then I said ‘Goodbye.’ It was a complicated goodbye. I’d always played two separate roles: neutral best friend and pseudo-girlfriend. So I ended up having to say goodbye twice. Once as a pseudo-girlfriend and then as a best friend. And I promised myself I’d never pseudo-date again.

Nearly a year has passed since I decided to stop living between the lines. I’m happy to report that I’ve had no relapses. The further I am the better perspective I have. Hopefully this perspective can help you if you find yourself in one.

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